In this series of articles on Proposition 19 in California, we will be examining the issues surrounding the proposition as well as the legislation itself, which appears on the ballot this November in California. As stated in the initial article opening this series,this will be a balanced look at how the new law may or may not affect marijuana’s legality in California.
In this segment, some of the claims made by those supporting the proposition are examined.
The official Yes on 19 (YesOn19.com) campaign makes two major claims about what The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 will do that are not supported by the legislation, as written. Those two claims are:
1. It will control cannabis like alcohol; and,
2. It will generate billions in revenue for state and local governments.
It should also be noted that the Yes on 19 campaign does not directly link to the actual proposition text as enrolled in the California voter’s guide.1
Prop 19 Controls Cannabis Like Alcohol Is Controlled?
In a broad sense, the idea that this proposition would create controls over cannabis similar to those on alcohol could be considered true, but in a legal sense it’s far from correct. The basis for this claim comes from Section 3 of the proposition in subsection 11301, Commercial Regulations and Controls.
Alcohol in California is primarily regulated and taxed by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). This office mandates specific rules and regulations regarding how alcohol is distributed and licensed by businesses throughout the state. It is augmented by county offices, usually as part of that county’s tax office.2
Proposition 19, however, gives no authority to ABC nor any other state-level agency for the regulation or taxation of cannabis. Instead, all control listed in subsection 11301 is given to city and county (also called and defined as “local”) governments. No direct tax on marijuana is given at the state level in any part of Prop 19?s change to the California Code.
The only way the State of California could tax or regulate non-medical marijuana under Proposition 19 would be through further legislative action, as designated by Section 5 (b) of the proposition.
Prop 19 Will Generate Billions in Revenue?
Again, this claim mainly comes from the powers granted in Section 3, subsection 11302 of Prop 19 and from related studies done, specifically those commissioned by the Assembly and Secretary of State in 2009.
The “billions” number usually comes from the California Board of Equalization’s (BOE) study which was presented to the California Assembly on September 9, 2009. Every ballot initiative approved by the Secretary of State for the ballot will undergo such a study of its financial impact on the State. The claim appears to come from the numbers given by the BOE in an analysis done on Assembly Bill 2254, which would tax marijuana at $50/ounce on the state level.4
However, in both its Proposition 19 analysis and those numbers regarding Bill 2254, the BOE clearly states that they cannot make good estimates because little data on marijuana usage and distribution (outside of medical use) exists in California.
The Yes On 19 site references the Legislative Analysis Office (LAO) as their source for this information, but that analysis includes no numbers, only “likely impacts” without dollar figures included. It contains phrases like “savings of tens of millions of dollars” and “unknown, but potentially major tax, fee, and benefit assessment revenues…”5
With the lack of usage figures and unknown tax rates that will follow if The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 wins the public vote in November, predictions about the potential tax revenue on both a state and local level are nothing more than prognostications.
Increased Penalties for Sales to Minors
I did not include this in the list of the top two false claims made by the Yes On 19 website because this mainly changes because of legislation that was passed and signed into law after Proposition 19 was already on the ballot (SB 1449). It is worth noting, however.
The penalties for selling to minors are contained in Section 4 of the proposition, which amends Section 11361 of the California’s Health and Safety Code. It adds a new subsection which defines sales to those over age 18, but under age 21 with a different penalty than before, which applied only to those under age 18. It gives a punishment of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 for each offense.
With the recent law signed by Governor Schwarzenegger, sales of an ounce or less to those over age 18 is merely an infraction whereas this addition makes it a misdemeanor and would supercede the new law. For more information on SB 1449 and its effects when it becomes law on January 1, 2011, click here.
In the next part of this series, we’ll analyze the false claims made by the No on 19 website.
1 – Proposition 19: The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, California Voter’s Guide, CA.gov.
2 – California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control website.
3 – California BOE Analysis of Proposition 19, BOE.CA.gov
4 – Prepared Testimony of Robert Ingenito, Chief, Research and Statistics Section, Board of Equalization to the Interim Hearing of the Assembly Committee on Public Safety, October 28, 2009
5 – LAO Analysis of Prop 19, LAO.CA.gov, September 9, 2010